Despite the light rain, around 40 students gathered in Davies Auditorium Tuesday night for a talk by former UN Ambassador Andrew Young at which Young spoke about the keys to leadership based on his experience as a diplomat and politician.
During the talk, Young addressed understandings and challenges of leadership since the civil rights movement, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the decades leading up to the Black Lives Matter movement. Quoting King frequently, Young said that world leaders should develop a vision for the future that can bridge gaps between otherwise divided groups of people. In addition to his ambassadorship, Young served as one of King’s closest aides during the civil rights movement, a congressman from Georgia and the mayor of Atlanta.
“You can’t decide to be a leader. You have to be trusted and selected by people. They push you into it, but once you are in that position, you have to have some vision to get out of it,” Young said. He highlighted the example of King, who went to Montgomery, Alabama, to deliver a speech and not to seek leadership, though he inspired Rosa Parks and other civil rights activists to participate in the wider movement.
Young also endorsed King’s method of civil disobedience and nonviolence. He said King believed that people should find ways to live like brothers and sisters. According to Young, the main challenge of leadership is developing a vision everyone can take part in. He summarized this vision in one word: survival.
Young noted that technology has changed the meaning of leadership since the civil rights movement.
“The world is so complex that it not only requires new kinds of leadership but a new kind of sensitivity,” Young said. However, he also said that though the world has undergone significant change, the way in which people approach contemporary problems has not lost its importance.
During the talk, Kevin Staton, who attended Howard University with Young’s son, asked Young about his opinion on the Black Lives Matter movement. Young said that there is a significant difference between the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement in that the civil rights movement took 20 years of preparation and came after landmark legal decisions regarding segregation and discrimination in the U.S., such as Brown v. Board of Education. He emphasized the importance of moving beyond frustration to reach a consensus.
University President Peter Salovey, who attended the talk, praised Young as a gifted mayor and an insightful ambassador to the United Nations.
“I enjoyed his comments about leadership and about the past and present of the civil rights movement, which were uplifting, but his comments about how to get together to do things in the municipal leadership are practical and exemplary for us here in New Haven,” Salovey said.
Audience members interviewed found Young’s advice on leadership inspiring, but some found his gentle attitude toward those who disagree surprising. Lelina Chang ’18 said that she was amazed to see such a successful person have such humility.
Young graduated from Howard University in 1951 at the age of 19.